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Nacho Gonzalez makes wines that I struggle to compare to any others. They are certainly, by any definition, natural wines: in the vineyard, he works organically and incorporates some biodynamic practices, and in the cellar he uses no additives. Equally, they are certainly artisanal: Nacho produces a truly tiny amount of wine, from small vineyards of very old vines, many of which he has rehabilitated from a period of abandonment. He is also an innovator, employing tinajas (traditional Spanish clay amphorae - he obtains his from Juan Padilla, who also supplies COS and Foradori in Italy) and exploring the full range of grape varieties to be found in Valdeorras. All of this certainly makes La Perdida, Nacho Gonzalez, and the wines unique, but I often feel that there is something more that draws me to these wines every year.
Perhaps it is their peculiar intensity. They are far from the fullest-bodied, the most alcoholic or acidic, or the fruitiest wines that I have tasted, but as I look over my notes from sampling them this year I return to this word, which I think reflects their liveliness or, maybe, aliveness. Certainly, the use of clay, not adding sulfur, and the old vines all contribute to this, but I think there's something else as well that I find inspirational, exciting, and compelling that unites them - even if I can't quite put my finger on what it is.
The wines on offer today come from vineyards in and around Larouco that Nacho rents or owns and that he farms organically, with some biodynamic treatments. The vines are all very old, yields are very low (less than 2kg per vine!), and farming is careful, manual, and deliberate, with no use of synthetic chemicals. Vinification is with native yeasts, without fining, filtration, or any additions, and done exclusively in tinaja or large old barrel. Each cuvée comes from a single vineyard and from a single barrel or tinaja. The wines each have their own personalities, but are united by farming and production methods.
I wish there were more bottles to offer of these fascinating wines, but we are grateful to be able to highlight and offer what we can!
As an addendum to Ben's text, I can only share my experience first with the wines, then of Nacho himself. The wines have always amazed me, with elegant rusticity, depth, fascinating herbal aromas, beautiful mid-palate material, and overall with their purity. Meeting Nacho informed my impression of the wines, as he is by far one of the most honest, humble and warm-hearted winemakers I've ever met. There is no ego to this man, just passion and dedication and a big smile. It's not always the case, but at times I feel wines are very much like the winemakers. Some wines can be meticulous and precise when the winemakers are serious and technical. Others can be a bit wild when the winemakers are more free-spirited or trusting of instinct over science. When wines are pure and enveloping, stricking to me, for example with the wines of Alice and Olivier De Moor, there is something I find in the wines that I also find in the beauty of their smiles. It may sound a bit poetic, but when there is a feeling of warmth, honesty, and gentleness felt around a winemaker, it's generally true they extend care and love to their land, their grapes and their wines. It's no wonder then, that the wines are so magical. With Nacho Gonzalez, I feel the same way. He is so selfless and disarmingly gentle that the wines are somehow imbued with this character! It's perhaps the same thing Ben can't put his finger on with how exceptional and unique the wines are.
These new releases are showing beautifully, and I think with a touch more precision and stability than some previous vintages that came to the US. The lighter, the more suitable for early drinking, but all worth some additional time in bottle.* We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
* P.S. We would like to thank Liz Fayad and the whole Jose Pastor team for allowing the wines to age stateside for several months before sending them out. We often discuss here at Chambers Street how much we wish we could hold wines, as they can arrive on our shelf directly after bottling and shipping. It's hard for winemakers to hold stock, same for the importers and retailers, due to financial concerns. Because of this, it's common, especially with natural wines, that bottles are opened without ample time to settle and "harmonize" (a word many winemakers use to describe what happens in the months after bottling). In this case, we have, as Ben put it, truly artisinal wines, that have been given some time to rest, and are just beginning to bloom. Thanks!
O Pando is a mountain vineyard of Godello, from which Nacho produces two different wines. This, the white which sees less time on the skins, is hand harvested, destemmed, macerated for 4-5 days and fermented in open-top tinaja. The 'white' shows plenty of appealing skinsy character, with notes of quince and ripe apple layered over a salty and stony mineral core. In fact, the 'white' is perhaps riper and denser than the orange, which seemed leaner despite the longer skin contact. There's appealing structure from both acidity and tannin to balance this ripeness. This was fascinating and surprising to try right now, but my guess is that it will knit together well over the next few months. Ben Fletcher
The O Chao vineyard is planted with Godello, and Nacho makes two wines from the grapes of this old-vine, low yielding mountain plot. This, the orange, spends much longer on the skins than the white. Nacho harvests the grapes by hand, fully destems, then ferments with native yeasts in open-top Tinaja and macerates the grapes with the skins for 5-6 months. The maceration is gentle, providing texture and density without overwhelming tannin. The orange of Godello has lots of acid-driven structure and citrus character, with a stony and salty mineral core. This was a fascinating and intense orange wine that I think will reward holding for a bit, allowing it to meld and soften to express itself a little better. Ben Fletcher
A rare release of Nacho Gonzalez's Doña Blanca. Four months of maceration, but a gentle maceration at that, which lends a lovely, delicate structure. The grapes come from the old vineyard O Chao, and they are harvested separately from the rest of the vineyard and destemmed before fermenting in large, open top tinaja. Lychee, pear, and passion fruit on the nose, crunchy minerality on the finish. A young wine, but nonetheless nice to drink now, it should be well integrated and balanced with a few more months in bottle. Eben Lillie
80% Palomino, 20% Doña Blanca from the O Chao vineyard in nearby Seadur. The 2018 La Perdida Malas Uvas, has a yellow green robe. The nose offers pretty aromas of white flowers, orchard fruit, apricot skin and straw. The palate has nice tension with a taut attack giving way to ripe stone fruit and pear skin flavors with a fine-grained salty character on the finish. This is brisk and vibrant and would be a fine pairing with grilled sardines, confit of tuna, or young goat cheeses. John McIlwain
O Trancado is the wine from the vineyard of the same name that Nacho Gonzalez inherited from his grandmother. The vines here are very old, and very low yielding. Nacho harvests the Garnacha Tintorera and the Mencía by hand, destems all of the fruit, and ferments with wild yeasts in very large, open topped tinaja. The wine is raised for six months before bottling, then held for another six months in bottle before release. The result is a spicy, vivacious wine with bright red fruit character and lovely, complex tannic and acidic structure. There's a unique mineral aspect here, that perhaps distinguishes this vineyard site from the others that Nacho works. The 2018 is energetic and expressive right now, but will probably only improve over the next year. Ben Fletcher
Almost all Garnacha Tintorera, with 5% Palomino to freshen things up a bit, O Poulo comes from very old vines with very low yields in a vineyard of the same name that Nacho has been renting since 2014. One year of aging in ONE 400 liter barrel - this is the smallest production wine that we have to offer from Nacho this year, and this vineyard site was the most difficult to work in 2018. Definitely a limited wine! Blackberry and blackcurrant fruit, smoky notes, and meaty, spicy character surround a cooling, mineral core. Probably a wine to put away for a little while, but not due to tannin (which is smooth and integrated here), just due to the elegance and length. Eben Lillie
A Mallada is a blend of Garnacha Tintorera and Sumoll from the O Chao vineyard, which Nacho has been renting and farming since 2013. The vines in O Chao are very old, and have very small yields. Nacho harvests the grapes by hand, destems them, macerates on the skins for eight days and ferments with native yeast in large open-top tinaja. Energetically aromatic, with the Sumoll bringing abundant red fruit character to the nose, this is darker on the palate, with complex mineral and earth character as well as crushed raspberry and cranberry. This is beautiful right now, perhaps the most approachable of the 2018 red wines for immediate drinking. Ben Fletcher
95% Palomino, 5% Garnacha Tintorera, hand-harvested, fermented in used chestnut and French oak barrels, and raised in tank before bottling without sulfur, per José Pastor. The 2018 Proscrito has a limpid ruby robe. The nose is redolent of crushed strawberries, Morello cherries, and wild roses. This lightweight and lithe red offers flavors of red fruits, plum skin, and blood orange peel on a bright coltish finish. This has fine cut, brisk acidity, and buoyant energy that should delight lovers of Poulsard and other light reds. And while it may not be quantifiable, it may be difficult to find another wine that is as much fun to drink. This is highly recommended for this quality alone. John McIlwain